By Jeff Hamlin
When Randy Trumbower took his kids swimming at the YMCA of Meadowmont last Wednesday afternoon, he had a clear head.
It has been the most unusual August in his tenure as East Chapel Hill’s athletic director. Though there’s always work to do, he’s knew that this year’s athletic calendar would be delayed. With eight different sports to begin overseeing every fall, this is usually a stressful time.
But this was one August where he felt more at ease as he watched his kids in the water.
An hour later as he drove away from Meadowmont, he looked at his phone to find 22 missed phone calls and 64 new voice messages.
The peaceful, easy feeling was over.
While Trumbower was away, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association released its schedule for the 2020-2021 academic year, heavily altered because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Although the basic confirmation that there would, in fact, be a season for every sport was a relief for many players and coaches, the new calendar created more questions than it solved.
The NCHSAA, tasked with cramming 20 different sports into a seven-month window, announced that volleyball, men’s and women’s cross country would be the first sports to return to action this fall. Workouts would begin on Nov. 4 and the first games will be Nov. 16.
Trumbower has more scheduling headaches than any other local school. There are only two outdoor athletic facilities at East Chapel Hill equipped with lights. One is the Lindsey Linker Tennis Stadium. The other is Dave Thaden Stadium, which hosts games and workouts for eight different sports, including football.
Of those, men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s soccer (all on Jan. 11) and football (Feb. 8) are slated to start practices during the winter.
In the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, the standard remote high school learning day doesn’t end until 4 p.m. With Daylight Savings Time scheduled for March 14, it leaves roughly one hour of daylight for teams starting practice in the dead of winter.
“I don’t see how we can start practice until 4:30 p.m.,” Trumbower said. “If the sun sets at 5:30, you have an hour to do men’s and women’s lacrosse every day. I just don’t see how that’s possible.”
Another task will be making sure the turf at Thaden Stadium is healthy enough for hosting four different sports in one season. Men’s and women’s lacrosse and men’s soccer will play their season-opening games on Jan. 25. Football will start a month later.
“Usually, most schools don’t have grass on their fields come March,” Trumbower said. “You’re going to have more playing lines on a field than you can shake a stick at.”
While the facilities dilemma affects only the East Chapel Hill locally, the new calendar will force athletes at every school to pick and choose between contact sports.
Usually, football is played in the fall and men’s lacrosse begins practice in late winter, allowing athletes that play both sports a full 3-4 months to rest their bodies from the grind of the gridiron. Under this calendar, football will begin its regular season on Feb. 26, just a month after the start of the men’s lacrosse regular season.
While NCHSAA will allow athletes to play both sports, many players likely won’t desire the wear and tear on their bodies.
Three years ago, East Chapel Hill didn’t field a varsity football team because of a lack of players. Last season, East Chapel Hill’s varsity had 35 players, eight of whom played basketball. Three suited up for lacrosse.
“Why would an athletic director allow a kid to play two contact sports under this scenario?” Trumbower asked. “Your top athletes aren’t going to be able to play both. Men’s lacrosse is in an awkward position because it’s before football. Between lacrosse, football and basketball, it’s a question as to which program is going to suffer? One of those sports will lose a number of athletes.”
Under the guidelines issued last week, basketball practices start on Dec. 7 with games starting Jan. 4.
Last Saturday, the North Carolina Field Hockey Association canceled its 2020 season. (Field hockey, which is not sanctioned by the NCHSAA, is contested in the fall). In 2019, East Chapel Hill’s field hockey team reached the state semifinals and finished 20-2.
And will there be any state playoffs at all? In its announcement last week, the NCHSAA didn’t confirm plans for state championships, which usually are contested on college campuses.
Most sports had their regular season pared down to a maximum of 14 games, including volleyball, basketball, soccer, baseball, softball, lacrosse, tennis and wrestling. Football season, usually spanning 11 games, was reduced to seven.
The streamlined regular season allows only a scant number of nonconference games, if any at all. East Chapel Hill and Chapel Hill, both members of the 3A Big 8 Conference, annually face nearby rival Carrboro in nonconference games.
The schedules for all sports all still being developed. Last Friday, the NCHSAA issued a moratorium on all conference and non-conference scheduling. NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said an ad-hoc committee, consisting of 32 people representing the North Carolina Athletic Directors Association and the North Carolina Coaches Association, hopes to release more details about scheduling and the state playoffs on Sept. 4.